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                                         113 N.J.L.J. 393
                                        April 12, 1984


Appointed by the New Jersey Supreme Court


Legal Aid Office conflicts
in Landlord/Tenant matters

    This inquiry is from an attorney employed by a legal aid office, which handles a substantial number of landlord/tenant matters. In the past, the office had advised landlords who had come to them for assistance so that the landlords could proceed pro se. If a tenant of that landlord subsequently came to legal aid for advice, to avoid any conflict, the tenant was turned away. This same procedure was followed when a tenant sought advice or representation from the legal aid office, and subsequently, the tenant's landlord also appeared for legal assistance. He, too, was turned away. The legal aid office is about to employ an additional attorney who will appear in court to assist people primarily with respect to landlord and tenant problems.
    The inquirer asks:
    1.    Should the legal aid office continue to operate so strictly when they are advising and/or preparing pro se legal papers; and,
    2.    Should the legal aid office be concerned about possible potential conflicts, once their attorneys commence going into court, which conflicts the office feels appear to be more theoretical than real?

    It is the Committee's opinion that it is not permissible for an attorney, whether a private practitioner or an employee of a legal service office, to represent both the landlord and the tenant in the same matter. If a party solicits the aid of the legal service office and if that office furnishes assistance to that party, there is representation and an attorney/client relationship.
    Disciplinary Rules 4-101, 5-101, and 5-105 clearly oblige an attorney to represent his client with an undivided fidelity and forbid subsequent employment from others affecting any interest of the client with respect to which confidence has been reposed. Rule 1.7 of the Model Rules of Professional Conduct of the American Bar Association adopted at its 1983 annual meeting is in accord with these Disciplinary Rules.
    It is difficult, indeed, for this Committee to conceive how an attorney reasonably could believe that the representation of one of the two parties in a landlord/tenant dispute would not adversely affect his representation of the other. To maintain public confidence in the bar, it is necessary to not only avoid actual wrongdoing but even an appearance of wrongdoing. See our Opinions Nos. 6, 86 N.J.L.J. 718 (1963); 190, 93 N.J.L.J. 837 (1970); 210, 94 N.J.L.J. 461 (1971); and 362, 100 N.J.L.J. 1 (1977).

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